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Copyright in the Classroom

University Libraries Course Reserves

Did you know? The University Libraries offer course reserve services to help you make materials from the Libraries' collections or from your personal library available to your students. Find more information on the course reserves page.

Course reserves review requests to avoid copyright infringement, but instructors should also consider whether or not their course reserve requests fall within the scope of fair use. The law does not provide any specific limits on the amount of material that can be placed on electronic course reserve and made available to enrolled students; however, you can usually speed approval of your request if it is limited to:

  • 10-15% or one chapter of a scholarly book
  • One article from any given journal issue
  • Under certain circumstances one newspaper article from a newspaper issue

Remember that these guidelines apply only to materials that are protected by copyright. If the material you are using is within the public domain, there are no limits regarding the portion of the item that you may copy and distribute. Similarly, free or openly licensed educational materials may be available to supplement copyrighted works in the classroom.

Developing Your Course Site

Whether you are using Blackboard or Canvas, the same considerations apply to help you respect copyright protections--and leverage exceptions--when developing a course website. A few important tips:

  • Fair use is your friend: Fair use is a flexible exception to copyright that allows all of us to evaluate the use of copyrighted materials in contexts such as research and teaching. Learn more about fair use.

  • Not all educational uses are fair: Fair use isn't automatic just because you are developing a course website; you should evaluate your use on a case-by-case basis.

  • Educate your students: If you are making a copyrighted article, book chapter, or other material available to your students, in the file description include a copyright notice such as: This work may be in copyright and is made available to students under specific exemptions described in U.S. Copyright Law. Distribution is limited to password-protected access to enrolled students at Ball State University.

  • Linking is legal: As long as you're linking to material that itself isn't infringing on copyright law, then you can take full advantage of linking to resources from your course site. This includes links to resources available through the University Libraries, other websites, embedded links to videos and social media, etc.

  • Proportions are important: One factor in determining whether or not a use is fair is the "amount and substantiality" of the material. This is an important consideration when making copies of journal articles or book chapters available to students. In the Libraries, we use a guideline of 10-15% of a book or one article from a journal issue as a starting point for determining whether or not electronic course reserves comply with copyright law; you may find this guideline helpful when making materials available on a course website.

  • Fair use isn't forever: Be sure to remove students' access to copyrighted material at the conclusion of each academic term. Also, as you're planning your course in subsequent semesters, consider whether or not that copyrighted work is still the best option to meet your educational goals. Is it time to switch it out for another resource?

  • Get permission when necessary: If you want to copy or digitize an entire work or you know you want to use some resources to teach the same class many times, you will probably need to get permission from the copyright holder or pay licensing fees. Learn more about obtaining permission, or you can contact the University Bookstore for information on services for creating course packs.

  • Consider open access resources: Increasingly, scholarly works and materials designed for educational use are being made available for sharing and reuse. In most cases, these are still copyrighted, but the author or publisher has made them available under an open licensing framework such as Creative Commons.


Using Videos in Your Course

Many instructors are eager to incorporate film and video into their courses. Both the University Libraries and University Media Services work together to help you make portions of films available while complying with copyright law. Learn more.

For more information, access the University Libraries' recently revised guidelines on Copying and Distribution of Video for Educational Purposes.